The difference in their ages, skills and interests is great. While she is starting to think like a young adult, he is chucking a toy at the wall when informed it is, indeed, bathtime. His constant asking what time it is drives her (and all of us) a little nuts but she understands he has no real need to know what time it is and really just likes to hear the numbers so she plays along. While he runs through the house nude and proud, she is horrified if a friend is over. You get the idea. On these cold January afternoons when I hear them playing some variation of make believe or listen as she sets up a train track for him and then continues to play with it too, I have observed that she makes him a little more deliberate and focused in his play and he brings out the part of her that is still a child, not yet a tween.
I'm sure every mama hopes their kids will be close friends. I think my fear is that they will always be at drastically different places in life and might not connect. And how will the third child fit in there? Will he take the baby under his wing as much as his big sister does? In sitting down to write this post I thought of the all the things that have helped these two grow close in hopes that we can replicate it with another big age gap coming up.
1. Accept that it isn't perfect. Having kids 2.5 years apart isn't perfect either. It was hard when we brought the little man home and she had to share her parents, but she got over it and is now very loving and protective of the little monster that can sometimes upset her plans.
2. Expect the older child to be responsible for their younger brother or sister. Since I began working at home, I've asked for a lot of help from our daughter. She knows I often need a 30 minute nap to function on the overnight shift and will play happily with him or watch over him while he plays trains or watches a movie. I know this is no easy task, especially because he is a rambunctious and sometimes aggressive little dude so I try to remember to be grateful and give her a special privilege for helping out. But she doesn't always need bonus screen time for watching him. I've come to see that it is an important role she has within our family and it is helping her be a more responsible and patient sister. She'll thank me someday, right?!
3. Find ways for their vastly different routines to intersect. Big sis is a Joiner. We're talking swim team, basketball, band, choir, piano, book club, yearbook....and other things I can't even remember. She does best when she's busy, burning energy and chattering non-stop all day and then collapsing into her bed with a book before bedtime. From morning to night, she is pretty self-directed. His life happens at a much slower pace, 3 days a week at preschool, couple mornings at grandma's, a little Thomas on the ipad, bathtime, a harcore wrestle with his dad and he zonks out with steam engines in hand. I wouldn't call him self-directed yet! Just before bedtime, there is a good 15 minutes that they spent reading. Just the two of them together each evening. It's not something we skip when it's late or take away as a punishment - and when they're done reading I spend a few minutes reading a chapter book to them together. It's one of the things I'm proud of, a really solid routine and a sort of firewall against the crazy schedules that all collide in this house.
4. Let them figure it out. I am always surprised when they play together quietly or create some alternate American Girl/Thomas the Train universe that works for both of them. It's like I expected them to pass each other in the hallway and say hi, too far apart in age to actually want to play together. Our house is small by USA standards, 1600 sq feet. We don't have a big finished basement or family room where I can send them to play out of the way. Either they are at the kitchen table, the living room floor or in each other's rooms. I like it this way. Without me trying anything special, they choose to spend pieces of their days together, and hopefully always will.